by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, January 2, 2020
British visitors to Australia have been urged to take care and monitor local news reports as the country continues to battle devastating and widespread bush fires.
A state of emergency has been declared in New South Wales (NSW), as Australia's most populous region braces itself for a weekend heatwave and strong winds. Authorities will have the power to force evacuations and open and close roads as necessary. Scores of fire continue to burn in the region, along the country's south-east coast.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “We don't take these decisions lightly but we also want to make sure we're taking every single precaution to be prepared for what could be a horrible day on Saturday."
The official fire rating of “catastrophic” is in place in several locations around Australia.
How are the fires affecting tourists?
Tourists have been warned to stay away from the South Coast this weekend, with the New South Wales fire service initiating a “tourist leave zone” stretching from Batemans Bay down to Wonboyn.
“If you are holidaying on the South Coast, particularly in the general area from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border, you need to leave before this Saturday,” the fire service said. “If you are planning to visit the South Coast this weekend, it is not safe. Do not be in this area on Saturday.”
The evacuations have led to long delays and traffic jams on the roads.
Rob Rogers, the state’s Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner said fires were still burning out of control. “The message is we've got so much fire in that area, we have no capacity to contain these fires," he told ABC.
"We just need to make sure that people are not in front of them."
In Victoria, further south, a total fire ban has been declared. The Bureau of Meteorology in Victoria said smoke cover is likely to remain around Gippsland and the north east of the state.
Neighbouring South Australia is also experiencing “very high” fire conditions, with a number burning outside Adelaide.
What is it like in Sydney?
The situation in Sydney has improved somewhat since the city was cloaked in smog before Christmas. Fires, however, continue to rage across New South Wales, the country’s most populous region of which Sydney is the capital.
“Moderate” air quality has been recorded in Sydney’s coastal neighbourhoods, but hazardous levels of harmful particles have been found in the city’s south-west areas. Authorities are warning adults to avoid strenuous outdoor activities, and for “sensitive” groups, including children and pregnant women, to avoid all outdoor activities.
The city is due to host the inaugural ATP Cup tennis tournament on Friday, which will feature a Great Britain team, amid concerns the air quality will affect athletes. Bulgaria's player-captain Grigor Dimitrov said it was "terrible".
Before Christmas, the city was shrouded in smoke from nearby bushfires. Mark Apter from the Wirral was on holiday in Sydney. “Everything smells of bush fire,” he said. “There’s a haze all around like smog, even inside the shopping mall.
“When you go outside you can still see, but as you look further – like down the road – it gets very hazy in terms of visibility. If you look up it looks like a cloud blanket with a yellow-orange glow.”
How hot is it?
The average high from earlier in the month of 41.9C has not been breached, but every state this week has registered temperatures above 40C. In Western Australia, the mercury reached 47C. Temperatures are set to rise again for the weekend, with coastal areas to the east and south-west expected to exceed averages.
For reference, the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK was 38.7C (measured in Cambridge, in July this year).
Australian summer lasts until February.
Severe Weather Update elevated fire danger and heat for WA, SA, Vic & NSW Video current 12pm AEDT 02/01/20 Info https://t.co/YEDLXvwS1H and follow advice from emergency services. #ausfirespic.twitter.com/lXoAJVeVyX
— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) January 2, 2020
Has the Foreign Office issued advice?
The UK Foreign Office warned holidaymakers to follow the advice of local authorities. “Australia continues to battle serious bushfires across multiple regions with authorities in some regions declaring a State of Emergency and ordering road closures and evacuations,” it said.
“If you are in or near an affected area or planning any travel, stay safe, monitor TV news, radio and social media channels for updates, and follow the instructions and advice of local authorities.”
It added: “Bushfires can start and change direction with little or no notice. A Fire Danger Rating system operates across Australia which provides an indication of the possible consequences of a fire, if one was to start.
“The highest rating of ‘Catastrophic’ has already been issued and it is likely this fire season could see many more areas see this rating applied.
“Smoke generated by bushfires can result in poor air quality, which could provoke respiratory conditions. Smoke can often accumulate many kilometres from the fire, including in urban areas and major cities.”
The Foreign Office listed contact details for local fire and air quality monitoring organisations.
Can I cancel my trip?
The heatwave and bush fires have not prompted the Foreign Office to change its overall travel advice, so anyone wishing to cancel their trip would likely lose money should they do so.
If you are booked with a tour operator and believe the weather will impact your trip, contact a representative for advice. It is unlikely they – or an airline, for those travelling independently – will allow a cancellation without penalty based on the current conditions.
Air travel in and out of the country has so far been unaffected.
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